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Natural, green, clean, organic, sustainable, ethically sourced—these are all buzzwords in the beauty industry. They're used on so many different products but can mean drastically different things. The thing is, there are so few regulations (practically none, more like) on using these words as part of marketing jargon or on products. It's frightening, really, the number of products you can buy that offer no real value to those words. To better understand why this is happening, and how, I reached out to Charlie Denton, the founder of Crop, someone who knows very well what it's like to go through the often grueling process of keeping your products certified and truly "clean."
He offered up so much insight, from the reasons brands aren't taking the time to do this to what it really means for our products (and our skin). There are so many ingredients that have been banned from every country other than the U.S. It's scary. So he also offered up a few ways to keep yourself, and your products, accountable, what to look for on an ingredient list, and how to see if the product has been Cosmos-certified—the highest standard for clean beauty products. Below, he answers our FAQ.
What is the Cosmos certification?
"The Cosmos Standard was developed as a response to the rapid growth yet under regulation of the natural-beauty category," explains Denton. "It involves formulating products to the world's strictest and most tightly regulated standards. Every part of the product's supply chain must be audited yearly. This is enforced by the world's leading regulatory bodies including Ecocert, Soil Association, BDIH, Australian Certified Organic, and more. It covers every part of the process, from where the raw ingredient is sourced and farmed to where the formulation is produced, right until it gets to the final company who sells the product. To be verified under standard is not easy. Ingredients have to be grown under certain conditions and things like water wastage and by-products have to be monitored and limited. For these types of reasons, it is the gold standard of certifying products as natural. It guarantees the most premium ingredients have been formulated in the most sustainable manner, resulting in the cleanest beauty available on the market and all claims are verified and valid."
Why don't more "natural" brands get certified?
"I think this is both a combination of two things," notes Denton. "The under-regulation in the industry means nobody has been holding brands responsible. For so long, brands and companies have been able to get away with misleading and unverified claims. This has led to confusion amongst consumers. I’ve seen this unfold right in front of my eyes over the past few years, and I think once consumers realize and see they can expect more from brands, the number of brands that are certifying will increase drastically. It is already happening as we speak.
"It's certainly a time-consuming process. It took us a few months, and it is a constant, ongoing process. It's not something that you get one time; it is a day-to-day maintenance of the processes and standards to ensure the integrity of the certification is being upheld. We chose to go this path because we saw the confusion in the 'natural' landscape and how there was no clarity around what 'natural' truly meant. [The certification] eliminates any ambiguity around a product and has clear guidelines on sustainable practices and the purity of ingredients."
Why do you think the industry has such little regulation?
"I think it will continue to happen until a government body defines the terms, or until there is enough information readily available and accessible for people to understand what 'clean' beauty is," Denton muses. "The Cosmos certification puts a definition around all of this. It truly shows and explains why X product is considered natural and how much of the percentage is from natural origin. Even the way in which brands tell you what is not in the product can frustrate me. Traditionally, this type of marketing distracts you from what actually is in the product."
What should a consumer be looking for?
"The ingredients list is number one, for sure," says Denton. "Make certain you know what you are putting on your skin if you are looking for a natural product. Then, look for certifications and claims. Ensure those certifications are from an international body and that they are valid. Don't be fooled by lovely designed iconography. This may be a distraction. And, of course, don't get sucked into a product that 'contains an organic ingredient.' There may be a tiny percentage of that ingredient, and other chemicals can still be present."
Below, find a few of our favorite Cosmos-certified products.
FYI: Here are 15 health and beauty products we're now obsessed with thanks to Instagram.